Black Interior Designers & Creatives

For the month of February (Black History Month) Sankofa Stories sat down with a panel of 5 successful interior designers and creatives to discuss their roles, challenges, and innovations throughout their respective industries. The panelist included Delia Kenza of Delia Kenza Interiors; an interior designer based in Brooklyn, New York. Cassandra Dow; owner of Women of Color Create based in LA. Bessie Byrd; an interior designer and creative based in LA. Nasthalia Casimir; an interior designer based in New York City. Tiye, a New York based photographer, creative, and founder of nonprofit organization We Roam Freely. Ajaee Shepard; author and interior design principle of ALABSTUDIO LLC. The conversation started with a brief intro on where the panelist were and how they started out in the industry. A few of them had pursued a design degree or were completely self taught and learned from experience. The conversation then transitioned to challenges they may have faced and how they overcame them. Nasthalia, being in the beginning stages of her design career, commented “There is a limited amount of women of color throughout the industry and a lack of representation which lead to often times feeling out of place or undervalued.” She also mentioned being excluded and not truly feeling respected within design spaces. Everyone seemed to agree with having to go the extra mile to prove they were knowledgeable. Nasthalia then commented on how she overcame these obstacles by “being confident and not allowing other’s behaviors and negative attitudes towards the situation keep her from showing her talent.” Delia chimed in to say ” I tend not to overanalyze and at this point in my career, I’m just thinking about my craft and what I do. Just keeping focused on the idea that people are hiring me and recognizing me for my work. Yes I’m a black woman, but it’s obvious I’m a black woman and it’s just what I am. I think you’d be facing these same challenges whether you are in interior design, trying to be a market maven, or the next supermodel. It’s just the obstacle a girl is always going to face. Just let your work shine and you have to be brave. Don’t let them put you in a box. You grow, you learn, and you just keep moving.”  Tiye commented “As a photographer, that’s always been a barrier for me. I wish I could be the person to say I am a black woman and have it at the forefront of my head but that’s something I think about all the time when I walk into rooms where I’m the only person of color, female, its screams at me in my mind when I feel like other. Other artists in my community also face it when it’s hard to get into certain galleries, galleries that would make an impact on your career as an artist. It was impossible requirements for me and what I was offered through my life. So I started We Roam Freely to combat that and the goal is to redistribute funds that we get so what ever funding we get, we put back into the black community. Black artists and artist of color. So that’s what we’re trying to do at the non-profit. Take away those barriers, make it not about the things you were not offered when you were younger because of systemic racism. Just allowing any creative to have similar or the same opportunities as white women in art.” Cassandra ended this question with commenting she’s adapted her “ZERO FUCKS” mentality after dealing with traumatic situations in design school and leaving feeling like she was not good enough. She created Women of Color Create to “tell more stories and produce more stories and enhance more of our stories.” Cassandra also commented that she would tell the next generation not to concern themselves with others stunted perspective and try not to understand yourself as a person through other people.

The convo then took a turn to industry expectations as Bessie joined in to comment about certifications and her experience as a designer in LA moving from Boston and New York. She commented ” A lot of us are going through the motions right now and things are different for LA.  Right now, I am doing more corporate but being in LA with the covid numbers being the highest, it shut down a lot of corps so jobs are halted. To rely on anyone’s business right now is just not reliable. You have to have your own game plan. My thing is to always design on my own but the certifications here in LA are not the same. So my purpose is to get what I need but I’ll be prepared for other states.— being a creative in general is about staying afloat. Staying focused to truly what you want to do.”

Towards the end of our conversation, the panelist discussed how the current pandemic has affected them personally and how they interact with the industry/business. We’re all in a space of wondering what the world will look like in the next coming months but also agreed that this was a wakeup call to get grounded, decide what we wanted, and push forward. Be sure to check out the live streamed zoom call for further insight of the panel and panelist.

-Ajaee Shepard 2.5.20


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